Whatever vehicle, be it Greek myth, meditation, or moral, that could be used to orient oneself in Dimitris Papaioannou’s most recent piece, none prove useful.
From the first moments of the performance, Transverse Orientation deftly resists such simplicity. Seven figures, each costumed in black, a magnetic ball atop their cloaked heads wobbling back and forth, step toward a flickering light. The set is minimal. On one side of the white wall is the fluorescent light and on the other is a plain doorway. Stupefied by their curiosity, the figures disappear through the doorway, bringing ladders back with them.
Early on, the piece sets its own terms of absurdity and humor.
Before the light has been fixed, men clad in business attire rouse a bull. The bull (a puppet, to be sure) is sublimely realistic in both size and movement. The dancers, in a terrifically balanced act, animate and restrain the animal as it rears and kicks. It’s enchanting— the bull lunges after its handsome captors, swinging its horns at their legs. One dancer, while the bull is sending others flying, is even charged with flicking the bull’s tail. Yet the folly, the fight, is completely contrived. When the bull calms down, the sound of water flows through the theater. The animal lowers its head and laps water from an aluminum pail, a dancer’s hand to thank.
From a slit in the bull’s belly appears a woman. Soon, a dancer lowers a bull’s head over his, completing his transformation as minotaur. In Transverse Orientation, much like Papaioannou’s previous work The Great Tamer, there is no shortage of beguiling illusions. When dancers disappear off stage, they bring back with them a variable—a metal bed frame, styrofoam blocks, or minotaur masks, that gradually contours the piece. In this world, there is no form fitting through-line that organizes the logic. The piece is purely Papaioannou’s design.
Birth, virility, castration, and senescence all have a place here. In the moments when the performance approaches a wistful note, a disturbing act of absurdity or frivolity is quick to undermine the mood. A snorkeler, for example, swims across the stage. A minotaur reposes on the upper ledge of the white wall, a condescending air in his gaze. The lucid beauty Breanna O’Mara stands as a statuary fountain, champagne flowing in arcs around her. The three days of life (past, present, and future) find themselves beside an odd parallel— man, minotaur, and beast.
Like the bull, the audience must concede to the peculiar logic of work. Between the dancers’ wit and Papaioannou’s conviction, it’s hard not to be convinced. By the end of the piece, however, Papaioannou leaps two or three giant steps ahead, pulling the tired audience through his final tricks. As soon as we are willing to surrender to the work, we watch Papaioannou at play.